Knopf, 2010, 925 pages
The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.
A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver's enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 - "Q" is for "question mark". A world that bears a question.
Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
As Aomame's and Tengo's narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.
A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell's, 1Q84 is Haruki Murakami's most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.
In my review of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, six years ago (!), dv8nation commented:
I kinda give up on Murakami after two of his novels followed the plot of a guy is weirdly obsessed with a woman for years, they get seperated, they come together again and even though they never had any real relationship before they sleep together after which she's out of his life again this time forever.
.... He's right. That almost perfectly describes the plot of this book.
Every Murakami book review is an apt place to drop a link to Fond Memories of Vagina.
Murakami, best-selling Japanese author beloved of American literary hipsters, writes weird magical, surrealistic novels with fantastic flourishes and a tinge of sci-fi, usually some sort of parallel/alternate world storyline, and gets hailed as a Literary Big Name, but honestly, having read several of his books now, it is pretty clear that he always writes the same guy — a dweeby Everyman who passively waits around for things to happen and then passively watches them happen, occasionally participating minimally as things happen to him, but mostly waiting for the climax where he gets to fuck the hot Manic Pixie Action Girl. Of course he will fuck most of the other female characters who appear in the book as well, but the Manic Pixie Action Girl is special.
IQ84 has two protagonists: Tengo, a young unpublished writer who gets to screw all the hotties despite having no discernible attractive qualities other than being a big mellow teddy bear, and Aomame, the main hottie who works as an assassin killing abusive men for an elderly rich lady who runs a women's shelter. On one of her assignments, Aomame takes a detour down some emergency exit stairs to get off a freeway, and finds herself in a parallel world — one she calls "1Q84" (the novel is set in the year 1984). In 1Q84, most of history is the same as she remembers, except for subtle changes, like Japanese policemen carrying guns following a terrorist attack by a religious organization she doesn't remember. And the fact that there are now two moons, but apparently she is one of the few people who have noticed this.
Tengo's half of the story goes in an even more bizarre surrealistic direction, as he becomes a ghost writer for an autistic teenage girl named Fuka-Eri.
Check out all the Fuka-Eri fan-art on DeviantArt. Notice how so many of the pictures show big tits in a tight green sweater? That's because Murakami describes her big tits in a tight green sweater about fifty times.
fuka eri by kitten-thief on DeviantArt
Japanese perceiver ordering drinks by osakaqcvow on DeviantArt
1Q84 - FukaEri by BrokenApollo on DeviantArt
Fuka-Eri (who is described as dyslexic, not autistic, but her behavior seems to pretty clearly mirror autism) wrote an incredibly imaginative but poorly written story about "little people" who have the power to alter the world. Tengo's mentor in the publishing business, an unscrupulous editor, has the bright idea of getting Tengo to rewrite the story so Fuka-Eri can win a new writer's prize. This scheme works, with Fuka-Eri's cooperation, and the small book goes on to become a best-seller.
Tengo eventually finds out the little people are real and by publishing Fuka-Eri's book about them, they have triggered a chain reaction of sinister events. He's now in a parallel universe with two moons, and of course he gets to screw the pretty autistic teenage girl, in a weird sex scene that Murakami seems to want to have both ways — it's laden with eroticized descriptions of Fuka-Eri's lovely breasts and hairless prepubescent genitalia, yet the way in which it happens seems intended to absolve Tengo of agency or responsibility for, you know, screwing an autistic underage girl.
I gotta say, Murakami can be pretty damn creepy, and not just about the magical surreal horror lurking in the background of so many of his stories. Both his male and female characters are constantly examining themselves and musing on the unique and fascinating properties of their genitalia, Aomame mentions the size, shape, and slight imperfections of her breasts and nipples about a dozen times, and when it comes to the sexing, it's aaaaaaaaaallll about the penis, man! Hands, mouths, pussies, Tengo puts his dick in all of them in that infuriatingly passive manner of Murakami protagonists, and every sex scene gets a literally seminal climax. I mean, the dude is just obsessed with penises and semen. I have not yet read a Murakami novel that didn't include detailed descriptions of both.
Meanwhile, as Aomame's background is revealed, she becomes more interesting — much more interesting than that schmuck Tengo, who turns out to be her childhood sweetheart whom she has not seen since they were ten, and yet still somehow manages to impregnate her thanks to his literally magical penis. Seriously, Murakami invokes the supernatural elements just so Tengo can fuck Aomame without actually fucking her. And so he can fuck Fuka-Eri without actually being a pedophile. Yes, it's weird. And creepy.
(I would have warned for spoilers, but since it is a Murakami novel, you already know that the male protagonist is going to screw any remotely attractive female character by the end of the book.)
As a novel, 1Q84 was interesting. The story took a while to get underway, and then it took a while to wend circuitously around to a point, but it finally gets there. The story is very reminiscent of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle and it was a very bloated book. Murakami could have told the same story with half as many pages and half as many penis scenes. Definitely not his best work.
Also by Haruki Murakami: My reviews of Kafka on the Shore, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.
My complete list of book reviews.